Fleet registrations accounted for 49.2% of overall new car registrations in March at 183,348 units, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
The figure was down 6,310 units when compared to March 2011, but when combined with private registrations the market was up 1.8% at 372,835 units.
March is typically a big month for registrations, averaging 18% of the full year’s volume however the 2012 figures would represent 19.4% of SMMT’s full year forecast of 1.92 million units.
Paul Everitt, SMMT chief executive, said: “The important March new car market performed above expectations rising 1.8% to 372,835 units, boosted by the third consecutive month of retail growth.
“Domestic demand for new cars is showing signs of recovery with private buyers increasingly returning to take advantage of a wide range of excellent products and, this month, the new 12-plate.”
Quarter one volumes rose 0.9%, to 563,556 units on the back of better than expected March, while the market shares for diesel and alternatively-fuelled vehicles continue to rise, reaching 50.4% and 1.5% respectively in quarter one, with volumes up 4.7% and 5.6% respectively on 2011 levels.
Richard Lowe, head of Retail & Wholesale at Barclays, said: “The draw of the 12-plate series and the launch of new models got consumers onto the forecourts and spending.
“On the back of increasingly positive economic data, consumer confidence appears to be edging back, and has ensured that the first quarter of the year has set 2012 off to a promising start, in spite of the challenging climate.
“Whilst fleet has dominated sales, today’s 7.4% increase in private registrations shows that the retail market is making a comeback.
"April’s used car market is already promising strong offers and we are hopeful that the second quarter of the year will continue this upward trend.”
Supermini registrations rose in both March and Q1, to account for 39.1% and 37.7% respectively of the market. The Dual Purpose, Specialist Sports, Executive and Lower Medium segments showed the best growth in March.
The Ford Fiesta was the best-selling model in both March and over the first three months of 2012.